“Guests of Honour”

Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art | “Bergamo Redona” Centre for Adult Education and Training | Bergamo


· GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo (Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bergamo) (leading partner)
· Centro EDA “Bergamo Redona” (Centre for Adult Education and Training).
The project was launched within the framework of “Tracce straniere”, a cycle of events promoted by Teatro Donizetti and devoted to Bergamo’s growing multicultural community.


Funding bodies
80% of costs were covered by Fondazione della Comunità Bergamasca (a local community foundation), while GAMeC’s contribution accounted for 20% of the project’s budget (mounting of the exhibition and front-of-house staff); the professional photographer Alfonso Modonesi took part in the project on a voluntary basis.


· to understand how GAMeC was perceived by “new citizens” (who had never been to the museum), and what expectations, concerns, requests they had
· to encourage increased levels of awareness and use of the collections on the part of migrant communities
· to test the concept of “gift” (see below) as a platform for dialogue and reflection on the role of the museum
· to use the museum as a place for integration, mutual knowledge and language learning
· to actively involve participants by asking them to play a leading role in the creation of a “new museum” (through the symbolic donation of objects to the Gallery and the mounting of an exhibition).


Target groups
Adult learners with an immigrant background attending an advanced language course in Italian.


Duration of the project
January – May 2006.


Project description
Since 1999, the Education Department has been working at projects specifically aimed at making GAMeC an “accessible” museum for disadvantaged and marginalised citizens (disabled, migrants, hospitalised children, inmates).
Between 2005 and 2006, the Department further refined the approach of the museum to migrant communities’ consultation and engagement through the lifelong learning project “Guests of Honour”. A preliminary survey of immigrant communities living in Bergamo’s territory was carried out. The original plan to accept applications on an individual basis was dropped, as the Education Department thought that its pilot project would have benefited from the participation of an already consolidated group. Contact was made with a local centre for adult education and training, which declared itself willing to devote to the project one of the two weekly lessons of its Italian language advanced course. The main goals and phases of “Guests of Honour” were defined in close co-operation with the course tutor.
The original title of the project, “OspitiDONOre”, is based on a play on words – untranslatable in English – which encapsulates the two key themes of hospitality and gift. The former is developed in its twofold meaning (“ospiti d’onore” literally means “guests of honour”): through the project, participants become important “guests” of the museum, while at the same time they are recognised as “hosts”, since GAMeC’s collections belong to the local community as a whole. The concept of “gift” (the term “dono”, highlighted in capital letters at the title’s centre) reflects the origin of most of GAMeC’s collections, which were bequeathed to the City of Bergamo by private collectors.
The project involved five meetings in the museum’s exhibition spaces, so that participants could immediately become familiar with collections and the museum environment as a whole. The first meeting was devoted to explaining the origin of the Stucchi, Spajani and Manzù collections, named after the private collectors and the artist who bequeathed them to the gallery as a common heritage to be enjoyed by all citizens. A particular emphasis was placed on the notion of “gift”, looking for a meaning shared by all participants as well as for its different connotations, shaped by their individual experiences and cultural backgrounds. This emphasis on life experiences was not conceived as an end in itself, but rather as an opportunity to work and reflect on the role and functions of the museum.
The second and third meeting were devoted to the exploration of collections, where participants were invited to actively take part in the process of interpretation. During the last two meetings, the museum education staff called for an even more direct involvement, by asking  participants to identify an object which “represented” their relationship with the city of Bergamo; the chosen objects were then symbolically bequeathed to the Gallery through a series of pictures taken by the professional photographer Alfonso Modonesi.
The outcome of the project was a temporary exhibition curated by participants, who prepared the labels of their own picture/object, written in all the participants’ languages, reflecting tales of belonging/detachment, inclusion/exclusion, hopes/disillusionments, and forming an “imaginary museum”.
Follow-up interviews carried out with participants in the project highlighted a need for continuity and for a more structured relationship between the Gallery and local migrant communities, which led to the organisation of a training course for Museum Mediators (link alla scheda di progetto).


Lessons to be learned
“OspitiDONOre” has been a groundbreaking project for the Gallery because of the inclusion of community voices in the processes of interpretation and display, usually precluded to non-specialists, and more in particular to minority groups.
Key factors in the success of the project were:
· the continuity with GAMeC’s prior engagement with migrant individuals and groups, which allowed the museum to gradually get to know its surrounding community, and therefore to focus on tailor-made learning processes in response to specific requests
· the creation of a good cross-sectoral working team, made up of the education staff and the participants’ tutor
· the opportunity to work with a pre-existing group within the “institutional” framework of a course in Italian language, which gave the initiative a mark of credibility
· to hold the meetings in the exhibition galleries, which allowed participants to establish a direct dialogue with the museum’s spaces and collections
· to enhance and legitimise the experience of participants by inviting them to curate the final exhibition.

Some critical points also emerged:
· the varying degree of commitment on the part of participants: only half of the initial group took part in the whole project, which is typical of initiatives targeted at individuals of immigrant background that are not immediately associated with a professional “qualification” and/or a job opportunity
· the fact that the course was free of charge didn’t help some participants develop a real commitment to the project.

Publications / other resources
For GAMeC’s commitment to the accessibility of its heritage for traditionally excluded audiences, see:
– Brambilla G., “Da  ‘ospitiDONOre’ a ‘mediatori museali’: storia di una cittadinanza culturale”, in Bolla M., Roncaccioli A. (eds.), Il museo come promotore di integrazione sociale e scambi culturali, conference proceedings (Verona, Palazzo della Gran Guardia, 3 March 2007), City of Verona – Department Art Museums and Monuments, Verona, 2007
– Brambilla G. (ed.), Per un diritto al patrimonio culturale, themed issue of “L’integrazione sociale e scolastica”, vol. 5., n. 5, Edizioni Erickson, Gardolo (TN), 2006
– Da Milano C., De Luca M. (eds.), Attraverso I confini. Patrimonio culturale e integrazione sociale, ECCOM/Compagnia di San Paolo, Roma, 2006

Contact details
Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo
Via S. Tomaso, 53 – 24121 Bergamo
– Giovanna Brambilla, Head of Education Department
tel. +39.035.270272

Target Groups

Adult learners with an immigrant background attending an advanced language course in Italian